The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Predictors of death: A life-history approach for understanding oral health patterns during the late prehistoric period in the Eastern Woodlands


Department of Anthropology, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI)

Saturday 4:30-4:45, Galleria South Add to calendar

Bioarchaeological research on the relationship between oral health and sex challenges scholars to think dynamically about lesions on teeth and supporting bone as indicators of morbidity and mortality that are simultaneously influenced by population dynamics (e.g., fertility rates). Given the inability to observe skeletons at any time except death, oral health pathologies are measured in the present study as covariates and predictors of mortality through survival analysis. Previous research by the author has demonstrated a strong association between carious lesions on molars and mortality among reproductive-age females from the late prehistoric period in west-central Illinois. The present study utilizes a life-history approach and the theoretical insights synthesized in the “Osteological Paradox” (Wood et al., 1992) to expand upon this research and examine sex-specific oral health patterns in the Eastern Woodlands of North America during the 1,000 years prior to European contact.

Sex-specific patterns of carious lesions, abscesses and ante-mortem tooth loss are analyzed across time and space utilizing Cox proportional hazard models. The hazard rate associated with poor oral health is shown to be significantly higher among reproductive-age females during the Mississippian period in west-central Illinois and the lower Ohio River valley. Young adult females in these high-fertility agricultural societies experienced a differential risk of death when compared to their male counterparts. A subsequent meta-analysis of published data from the Eastern Woodlands reveals that re-examination of extant skeletal samples with appropriate analytical methods has the potential to support and expand upon the present findings.

Components of this research were supported by grants from Wenner-Gren (#7826), the National Science Foundation (BCS-0751484), and IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

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